After a particularly harsh winter, the weather is finally warming up, which is leaving plenty of hikers itching to hit the trails. If you are a Denver resident, you're surrounded by some of the best hiking in the country. Whether you're a rookie ready to break in your new boots or a veteran hiker looking for a new trail to explore, here are a few can't-miss hiking trails near Denver. But first, a few tips for first-time hikers:
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- Start slow, especially if you haven't been keeping up with your physical conditioning.
- New boots should be broken in before hitting the trail – there are few things worse than a pleasant hike being spoiled by blisters.
- Always pack plenty of water for you, your family and any four-legged friends that are joining you.
- If you aren't sure how long you will be out, toss a couple of granola or protein bars in your backpack, as well.
- Sunscreen is always a good idea, along with sunglasses and a hat if it's going to be particularly sunny.
- Most hikers drive out to the trailhead and set out from that point, leaving their cars in the lot. Make sure you are careful about any possessions you've left behind in your car – brining along a lockbox is the best way to protect your valuables in the case of a break-in.
Fording rivers or tackling sheer rock faces isn't for everyone. If you're looking for a trail that won't get your heart pumping too hard or that you can bring your whole family along on, check out some of these easy trails:
- South Boulder Creek Trail: One of the shortest trails on this list, South Boulder Creek Trail is extremely popular with hikers of all ages. Stretching 3.2 miles just over 20 miles outside Denver, this trail is great for spotting wildlife, including deer, coyote, birds and even the occasional mountain lion. Dogs are welcome on the north half of the trail, though watch out for the cows that dot the landscape and be sure to close all gates behind you.
- Green Mountain Open Space: Just under 10 miles to the west of Denver, you can find Green Mountain Open Space, another trail that's on the easy side. There are a few trails you can choose in this area, so stick to a distance that you're comfortable with. Either ride or hike this trail that can have altitude gains of thousands of feet. The wide, flat paths make this trail great for families and pets – though dogs must be leashed at all times – and, as a bonus, you are treated to a great view of the city. Be sure to bring a map and keep a close eye on signs, as the winding trails can get a bit confusing.
- Spruce Mountain Trail Loop: On the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, east of the Rampart Range section is the Spruce Mountain Trail Loop. You'll have to drive a bit farther out of Denver – about 40 miles, just north of Palmer Park, Colo. – to find this 5-mile trail. Your whole family will enjoy this trail, especially during the spring and summer, when they can find wild flowers all along the path. However, make sure to keep an eye on little ones – though the paths are flat enough, there are a few places with sheer drop-offs.
If you're ready to put those hiking boots to the test, give a couple of these moderate trails a try:
- Meyer Ranch: A bit over 15 miles west of Denver, you can find the Meyer Ranch trail in Jefferson County. You can pick your own trails, so make your hike is as long or short as you want. If you're looking to make an afternoon of your hike, you can find a picnic area about a half-mile away from the parking lot up the Owl's Perch Trail. If you find yourself in the area in the winter, there are plenty of sledding opportunities, as well.
- Heil Ranch: There are no shortage of of activities on this trail – from hiking to mountain biking to horseback riding. Located just over 30 miles outside of Denver near beautiful Boulder, Colo., this trail has a lot to offer, no matter how you tackle it. The steep inclines are punctuated by flatter areas that will let you catch your breath, whether you're on foot or bike. Because the trails have been well tended, there are few ruts caused by erosion.
- Apex Park – Enchanted Forest Loop: At a little over 5 1/2 miles, this particular route at Golden, Colo.'s Apex Park is one of the least-used trails in the area, giving you a little extra room to stretch your legs. While you're hiking, keep the historical importance of the area in mind – it was one of the main routes that potential gold miners took to Central City.